1236 6th Avenue,
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Known for most of its short life as the Center Theatre, this Art Deco style movie palace at 6th Avenue and 49th Street was owned by the Rockefellers and was built in the South Block of Rockefeller Center. It opened as the New RKO Roxy Theatre on December 29, 1932 with a stage show and the movie “The Animal Kingdom” starring Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy. Two days earlier, its larger sister theatre, Radio City Music Hall, had opened with a stage show only policy, again under the direction of ‘Roxy’ Rothafel.
The lobby had three ticket offices. The Grand Foyer was illuminated by day through five large exterior windows of opaque glass etched in relief. During darkness, the lighting was via three glass globes at ceiling height and two glass globes hanging lower. It was decorated in red and gold fabric with Bubinga mahogany walls and vermilion doors leading to the auditorium.
The auditorium had 75 foot high walls which were African mahogany paneled and a ceiling decorated with figures from Greek mythology. Centered over the orchestra section was a 400 bulb, 104,000-watt chandelier, 25 feet in diameter and a weight of six tons. Claimed as the largest of its kind, the fixture required its own fan cooling system. The proscenium opening was 60 feet wide and extended in height from stage floor to the ceiling. Like Radio City Music Hall, the New RKO Roxy Theatre had three shallow mezzanines, with respective seating capacities of 406, 655 and 559. The orchestra accomodated 1,890 giving the theatre a total capacity of 3,510. Like the Grand Foyer at Radio City Music Hall, the New RKO Roxy Theatre had a wide staircase and elevators to the top mezzanine, and a Grand Lounge in the basement. The theatre was equipped with a Wurlitzer organ of 4 manuals, 34 ranks which was opened by organist Betty Gould.
In March, 1933, the New RKO Roxy Theatre shared the New York premiere engagement of “King Kong” with Radio City Music Hall. Both theatres supported the movie with a stage show, “Jungle Rhythms”. After successful litigation by the owners of the original Roxy Theatre on 7th Avenue and 50th Street, the theatre was re-named the RKO Center Theatre in 1933 and it began to feature less costly second-run double bill film programmes. In 1934 RKO was dropped from the Center’s name when it opened its first legitimate production, “The Great Waltz”. When the show closed, the Center Theatre attempted showing films again. In February 1940, it hosted the New York premiere engagement of Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio”. Movies did not succeed here, and the Center Theatre returned to presenting live shows, including some ‘Ice Spectaculars’, until it closed and became an NBC studio in 1950.
In May 1954, NBC’s lease expired and a decision had already been taken to demolished the theatre. The theatre was demolished in 1954, so that an office skyscraper (built to ‘blend in’ with the rest of Rockefeller Center) could be constructed on the site.
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